Today I will highlight historical examples of anime censorship for library programming activities. Anime films and television programs are often an adaptation of a manga series. For blog readers interested about the other side, the history of manga censorship, check out Familiarizing Oneself with Manga Censorship.
Like manga censorship, anime censorship is the removal, suppression, or restriction of animated film and television programs with origins in Japan by a governing authority, its representatives, or other individuals/institutions including the animation studio or broadcaster. Anime television programs and films may also undergo access status changes on the grounds that the series is obscene or otherwise objectionable to standards, sensibilities and/or law. Content sanitization is the removal of specific images, scenes, and text deemed obscene or otherwise objectionable either domestically within Japan or more broadly for international audiences. The censoring of Paranoia Agent in the United Kingdom illustrates that content sanitization and access status changes often occur together, leading to the removal of certain scenes beyond broadcast showings to actual DVDs. As anime is a different medium than manga, how we view content sanitization must give attention to these medium differences with a particular focus on the motivations behind content sanitization.
Content sanitization may occur when the initial Japanese broadcaster is unable to include certain images from the original manga series on mainstream television, and the removal of such images carries over to broadcasts outside Japan. Furthermore, anime content sanitization often occurred during the North American localization process when distributors sought spots on children’s television blocks at the expense of a series’ actual narrative. Can you remember any particularly confusing scenes? Does your library have these censored broadcasts on your shelves, maybe shelved alongside the uncensored version?
Anime made available in 1980s America was often remixed as scenes were cut up, rearranged, and plots transformed, i.e., anime film Warriors of the Wind (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) and anime series Robotech (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA). Frequent targets of 1980s to early 2000s anime censorship included nudity, sexuality, violence, and substance use. Other content deemed objectionable was due to homophobia which led to the removal of LGBTQIA+ themes at the cost of some of fans’ most beloved relationships. Cultural products were also withdrawn, notably food. Have you heard about onigiri rice balls, I mean jelly doughnuts? The 4KIDS production of the Pokémon anime series referred to a common Japanese savory dish as a sweet snack also commonly found in Japan, but as Pokémon had not altered the image the result is quite comical. Some fans viewed this change as censorship, but others thought the removal of cultural products was a necessary step for making anime an international sensation.
Ideas for Your Library’s Anime Club
One advantage of looking at anime censorship then rather than now is that uncut versions of many of these fan favorites still exist, and your library may already be collecting them. For libraries with anime focused clubs, I suggest a double feature event for teens showing a censored episode prior to the uncensored version. Fan resources which address the changes made to a series can serve as discussion question inspiration. If your club enjoys both anime and manga, you may provide club members with a chapter from the uncut manga volume before showing the cut episode of the corresponding anime. When doing either activity, consider asking club members what they view as censorship and what they view as localization or Americanization. Young fans were and are the target demographic for most anime, and so how do they feel about the uncut version against the cut version? Other discussion questions can lead into current challenges to queer literature in libraries. Librarians are encouraged to show that censorship of LGBTQIA+ voices in media extends to all mediums which include LGBTQIA+ themes with anime being no exception.
Let’s discuss recommendations. Your library may have old VHS tapes and DVD discs featuring censored versions of Dragon Ball: The Saga of Goku (Dragon Ball), Cardcaptors (Cardcaptor Sakura), Sailor Moon, and other series. But what to do if your library lacks these? The censored version of Yu-Gi-Oh is available directly from the licensor while the uncensored version is available through major North American streaming services with both services providing an English-language dub. For librarians looking forward to seeing what is available in their own and other’s collections, I do have a few tips.
3 Tips for Finding Censored Anime
- Identify anime broadcast in the United States prior to 2008, when the ending of the 4KIDS programming block marked the beginning of a shift away from extensive content sanitization.
- Look for DVDs featuring the following language, “For the First Time Completely Uncut…!” as that tells you the distributor is responding to prior cut versions.
- Utilize fan made resources addressing early anime censorship, specifically personal sites and wikis which break down scenes in minute detail.
Anime censorship continues today, but many of the old practices have transformed. Present day North American anime streaming platforms rarely feature extensively modified or remixed anime. Fans may easily access anime uncensored from Japan, or can they? Stay tuned to find out!As always, please report any censorship occurring at your library.
Victoria would like to thank a fan and friend for the cover image associated with this post. ＼(^_^)／
Victoria Rahbar is an early career web services librarian. She has a Master of Arts in East Asian Studies from Stanford University’s Center for East Asian Studies and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Washington iSchool. She conducts research on the global dissemination of Japanese anime, manga, and video games through a DEI lens. She applies her research to the needs of libraries, speaking on issues around cultural representation in manga at academic conferences and anime conventions. She is especially interested in how current digital publishing practices disrupt past ideas around censorship and challenges to manga.